What is Day of the Dead all about, you ask?
Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, is not about death, it’s about celebrating life and welcoming back the spirits of the dearly departed.That’s the simplest way to explain this event that originated in Mexico and Central America with the Aztecs more than 3000 years ago and is now celebrated November 1 and 2. But what is the Day of the Dead exactly?
If you’re dying (ha-ha) to learn how you can participate in this Latino tradition and commemorate the life of someone you love, read on:
First things first:
Build an altar to honor your ancestor, either somewhere in your home or at their gravesite. The altar doesn’t have to be big, a table or a shelf will work. The altar is important because you’ll need some place to put all the stuff you gather to honor those in the afterlife. What stuff? Well…
Food: Traditionally tamales (yum!), Pan de Muerto (a sweet bread meant to represent the earth), and pumpkin or amaranth seeds are placed on the altar as a snack for the visiting spirits. But if your ancestor liked brisket… go for it.
I’m sure you’ve seen this traditional folk art from Southern Mexico. The elaborately decorated skulls are made from pure sugar and usually have the names of those who have passed written in icing across the forehead.
This colorful, delicate tissue paper is hung like a banner around the altar and represents just how fragile life can be.
These butterflies make their appearance in Mexico about this time of year, which is why they are believed to be the spirits of visiting ancestors.
Oh yeah! You’ll want everyone to know who’s being honored, so prop up a couple of pictures of your ancestor on the altar. Try to get images of things they did in every day life. That’s it… you’re ready to honor the spirit of someone you love who is in a much better place (we hope).
Now you are fully equipped to answer the question: What is The Day of the Dead?!
If doing all of this seems a bit overwhelming, the Smithsonian has a great interactive Day of the Dead website that will let you do it virtually. Click here to see it! So much easier than building an altar… but you won’t get to enjoy any tamales!